Former bull rider finds joy in training cutting horses
Professional cutting horses have never actually worked on a ranch running cattle, but they’ve trained all their lives to act like it.
Roy Carter teaches that skill — how to separate a cow from the herd.
“When it starts following the cow with his ears,” Carter said last week, “then you know you’re getting somewhere.”
Carter, 65, a cutting horse trainer with deep crags in his face and a turkey feather in his flat-brimmed hat, has been attending the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo since he was a kid — his father worked on a farm on Westheimer Road, back when it wasn’t full of strip malls.
By age 13, he’d gotten into bull riding, and he had his face bashed in during one competition, requiring reconstructive surgery. A few years later, he broke his neck and his back.
“I went out and sat in my car for two hours and cried, thinking of what I was going to do for a living,” after a visit to the doctor, he recalled. “And then I went out and rode bulls for another 13 years.”
He hadn’t gone to college, so bull riding was among his few options. He loved it more than anything, and it paid the bills. “I didn’t save any money,” he said, “but I always had money in my pocket.”
Carter finally quit bull riding in 1985. It wasn’t the injuries, he said, just time and a weariness with constant travel. The next-best thing was training cutting horses, so he trained under the best in the business, Keith Barnett.
Everybody seems to know one another in this industry, since you’ve either taught or been taught by or trained horsesformosteverybodyelse.
“He’s a legend,” said at least three people who passed by Carter as he leaned on a stall door in the recesses of NRG Arena as horses waited their turn to show.
The money’s a little steadier in the training business than it is riding bulls, but it’s by no means assured. Cutting horses are luxury goods: Most are owned by folks with expendable income who just like to compete on the weekends, and a good one can go for upwards of $100,000. One of Carter’s clients flies in from Idaho a few times a year to ride the horse he trains for her.
Around Houston, the business sank a little during the oil bust, as energy executives cut back on those little extravagances. It’s coming back, said Johnny Causey, chairman of the rodeo’s cutting horse committee. But then there’s always the risk of having a few bad shows, not bringing in the prize money you’re counting on — and if that goes on long enough, you start losing your reputation, and your horses won’t sell for as much.
That hasn’t happened for Carter, who now trains 22 horses at his ranch in Perrin, a tiny town in North Texas. Still, he stays diversified by breeding bucking bulls as well, about 30 of them, which he leases out to rodeos around the state. They’re friendly when they’re not trying to kill you, he said.
On Tuesday of last week, Carter was showing one of his clients’ horses, a dark brown 5-year-old mare with a small star on her forehead named Freckles Powder River. She’s small and skittish, and Carter had to treat her gently for a long time before she learned to trust. “She didn’t like herself when I got her,” he said.
After walking her in circles to keep her calm while other horses took their turn, Joenell, Carter’s wife, handed the mare off to him. Hunched in the saddle, Carter rode her forward into the milling herd and went straight for a brown cow with a big white stripe on its face.
Cutting horse judging is a subjective process. There are a few rules: You’ve got to single out a cow and keep it away from the rest of the herd until it comes to a standstill. After that, it’s mostly style — how the horse moves, low to the ground, pivoting on its massive haunches, springing forward with explosive speed to counter every desperate end run.
By those metrics, Freckles Powder River did well. But she didn’t get a chance to show off as much as Carter would’ve liked, and by the end, he knew he wouldn’t be winning any money in this division.
Sixty years ago, one of William and Margaret Patterson’s neighbors took boxes of Girl Scout cookies to their home and, feeling unwelcome, soon left.
That was the last time anyone recalls seeing the couple — and the last lead detectives had as they tried to solve the mystery of the couple’s disappearance.
“I took some cookies to Mrs. Patterson, and she seemed very upset,” Jeri Cash told the El Paso Times for a March 18, 2013, article. “It was the only time I had talked to her. The couple tended to keep to themselves. The husband seemed unhappy that I was in the house, and I left soon after, leaving the cookies with her. She was a tiny (petite) woman, and he always came across as mean and unfriendly.”
The Pattersons, who lived in the 3000 block of Piedmont Drive, were last seen between March 5 and 6, 1957, according to El Paso police records.
The Pattersons’ disappearance remains one of El Paso’s great unsolved mysteries. It’s still an open case.
“Any unsolved case for us is very frustrating,” said Sgt. Jim Belknap, supervisor of the El Paso County Sheriff ’s Crimes Against Persons unit, who has worked the case on and off for more than 10 years.
“Over the years, people have come up with their own personal theories and ideas of what happened . ... Those theories create mystery — and everybody loves a mystery.”
The disappearance of the Pattersons has inspired stories of espionage and even tales of UFO abductions.
Accounts of what happened to them have ranged from kidnapping to murder, with some believing they were killed and buried on the home’s premises.
Legend has it that their spirits haunt the old house on Piedmont Drive.
Former El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego once theorized that the Pattersons were spies who dropped everything and left.
William and Margaret Patterson, 52 and 42 years old when they were last seen, owned Patterson Photo Supply.
Associates told police the couple went on an extended Florida vacation and later sent instructions to distribute his properties to his friends, employees and colleagues.
The leads and theories went nowhere, and new tips occasionally surface.
“We continue to revisit the case and go back over the case from time to time,” said Belknap, who began working on it around 2005. “Anytime we get new information from people who call in, we follow up on those leads.”
“At that time it was a matter of putting together as a complete a case as we could, which is sometimes difficult with older cases,” he said. “Once we got the case together, we broke it down and reinterviewed some people and came up with additional information and leads.
“Unfortunately those leads did not pan out,” Belknap said. “We continued going over the case and looking at different aspects of it, and that’s pretty much where we are now.”
This video frame grab shows Roy Carter, a cutting horse trainer, petting his son’s horse at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 7 in Houston.
Margaret and William Patterson were last seen between March 5 and 6, 1957, in El Paso.